09/02/2005 11:25 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

For Bush, Katrina is the Perfect Storm

Here’s something to think about over the weekend. Despite everything the liberal media is saying about the Bush administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina--that members of Bush’s inner circle have bobbled the ball, that they’ve missed an opportunity, that they’ve proved themselves incompetent--maybe the reverse is true.

Maybe the administration knows exactly what it’s doing, and it’s doing it on purpose.

For one, this administration isn’t run by fools. These are intelligent, capable political professionals who have spent their lives waiting to run the country. Why would anyone think that when a disaster the size and scope of Katrina comes along that they would be sleeping on the job?

They’re not sleeping. As we all know by know, Condi Rice was off buying shoes in Manhattan and enjoying Spamelot on Broadway. The President was on vacation, and stayed there for what seemed like a terribly long time; the Vice President is still on vacation. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, seemed disinterested at best, and incompetent at worst. The Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, was quoted saying that he didn’t see much reason to rebuild New Orleans. And the rest of the government seems far more concerned with a September 11 commemorative rally than with the fact that the death toll from Katrina may rise beyond comprehension.

Do you really think this is accidental, that the men and women who run this country are all suffering some kind of temporary job-related ineptitude?

Think again about who these people are, and what they stand for. Think about social security, for instance. The issue for many was making sure that seniors have some kind of financial guarantee late in life. But for the administration, the issue has always been the size and scope of the federal government. This is a group of people who believe more than anything else that less government is always better than more government, and for whom no single issue is as important (and that includes the beliefs of the Christian right, who provide the votes but not the intellectual foundation for the current admistration.)

The arguments inside the Bush White House were never about whether or not seniors needed help. The issue has always been whether or not the federal government should supply that help.

Now think about Katrina again. The last thing the Bush administration wants to do is contribute to the idea that when the citizens are in trouble, the federal government will help. The last thing it wants to do is encourage what they consider an unhealthy reliance on Washington D.C. The last thing it wants is to create more government assistance.

Therefore, what looks to many as careless indifference is more likely carefully studied indifference. I.e.: Don’t encourage the people to depend on the government. Don’t spend any more money than is necessarily to help. Even the events leading up to the disaster make sense from this point of view: For example, it now is clear that the federal government chose not to spend money shoring up levees in New Orleans. Of course it didn’t. That’s not the government’s job. The government’s job is to let the locals figure it out. Let business do it. Let private foundations do it. It’s not the government’s business to step in to local affairs (and by local, they mean everywhere in the United States).

In the short run, the President and his circle may take a beating in the polls. But in the long run, they are counting on setting an important precedent. If they somehow come out of this one successfully, they will point to local government success, to private aid, to anything except the federal government as the key to revitalizing New Orleans--and try to make it a paradigm for all other national issues.

When it comes to federal government, for these people, less is better, and that means less aid, less help, less concern--anything to make people care less about the federal government. No matter how devastating the consequences.